Sunderland cancer patient waited a year for urgent appointment – hospital promises improvements at inquest

Thomas Dixon, who died after Sunderland Royal Hospital failed to recall him for a cancer check-up, with grandson Alex, one
Thomas Dixon, who died after Sunderland Royal Hospital failed to recall him for a cancer check-up, with grandson Alex, one
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HEALTH chiefs have apologised after a blunder meant a 64-year-old cancer patient was not seen for an urgent follow-up appointment for more than a year.

Former labourer Thomas Dixon had been treated for cancer of the bladder at Sunderland Royal Hospital, and should have been given a follow-up appointment within four to six weeks.

However, it was 12 months before the father-of-four was seen again after his daughters demanded an appointment when his health started failing.

Doctors discovered the aggressive cancer had spread to his tissues and bones. Mr Dixon died in March this year, three years after first going to his GP with symptoms.

A hearing into his death was told there was no evidence Mr Dixon’s life would have been saved by an earlier diagnosis, but his care could have been improved.

The health trust has apologised to the family and said a new electronic appointment system was being introduced in its urology department to stop it happening again.

Daughter Jayne Dixon, 32, from Houghton, said: “We don’t want any other family to have to go through what we have.

“We both realised that he should have been seen earlier.

“We were ringing and ringing urology, but we couldn’t get through, so we physically went in and asked to be put through.

“He was losing weight and starting to go grey. It got to the stage where he could not even go out and he used to be out every day, religiously.”

Donna, 31, from Durham, added: “There were some absolutely fantastic nurses, but when it was bad, it was very bad.”

Former National Coal Board worker Mr Dixon, from Shiney Row, was referred to the hospital by his GP in March 2011.

Urology consultant Philip Keegan said Mr Dixon had a biopsy two months later, which showed the tumour was growing into the muscle wall of his bladder.

Surgery to remove the bladder was ruled out due to his ill-health and smoking. Instead, he was given the maximum dose of radiotherapy at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital between July and August 2011. A further examination in August 2012 showed the tumour seemed to have disappeared.

Mr Keegan told the inquest at Sunderland Coroner’s Court that it had been planned to recall Mr Dixon within six weeks of the last review.

However, he didn’t speak with consultant Sheikh Neem until August the following year, when he said he did not want to go through a biopsy to remove part of his bladder.

Mr Neem told the inquest he did not know why the follow-up appointment had not been made and could not say whether earlier treatment would have altered the outcome.

Mr Dixon died on March 29 at St Benedict’s Hospice.

Senior coroner Derek Winter will use his powers to order a report from Sunderland Royal and urged them to put the new system in place as soon as possible.

He also asked bosses to look into whether other departments were experiencing the same problems.

Ruling that Mr Dixon died of natural causes, he said: “The evidence is not there to suggest these failings actually caused or contributed to his death.

“But it does not mean they are not there and they are very worrying.”

Hospital trust solicitor Tracey Longfield said the department was working to a “high level recovery plan”, with senior managers meeting every week.

She added: “The Trust wishes to apologise to the family for the failings in the care provided and any impact this might have had on Mr Dixon’s quality of life.”

•Conclusion: natural causes.